“The Good Wife” doesn’t return so much as reload, inaugurating its seventh season on Oct. 4 by introducing several strong characters. They are coupled with the usual assortment of guest stars, along with name-dropping Hillary Clinton and tying into the current presidential campaign. Funny, smart and more serialized than most CBS dramas, the series remains a minor miracle in this balkanized age, straddling the line between ambitious cable fare and network series that, at least this fall, look determined to party like it’s 1995.
After her own thwarted foray into politics, Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) is eager to get back to practicing law, but the taint on her name has forced her to scrounge for clients. Despite overtures from the morally questionable Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox) to join him, she begins working at the bond court, assisting arrestees who are seeking bail, much to the chagrin of the judge (guest Christopher McDonald). There, she also meets a young, hungry attorney (Cush Jumbo) who becomes her de facto guide to working the system.
At the same time, Alicia’s husband Peter (Chris Noth) is exploring a presidential bid, not with any hopes of winning but rather to establish himself as a likely running mate for Clinton. But that warrants bringing in a high-powered consultant (the ubiquitous Margo Martindale), much to the chagrin of Peter’s easily riled strategist Eli Gold (Alan Cumming).
Giving Cumming more material to work with is never a bad idea, but the tangential relationship with the current real-life primaries feels a trifle thorny, and perhaps a bit too precious for its own good. Fortunately, these episodes (the first written by showrunners Robert and Michelle King) are awash in wholly fictional intrigue and amusement, including Alicia’s search for a new investigator. The candidates, starting in the second episode, include Jason Crouse, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan essentially reprising the role he played in the second season of CBS’ “Extant,” only with much, much better writing.
Throw in further intramural warfare among Alicia’s former colleagues at Lockhart, Agos & Lee, and there’s plenty happening, and seemingly more than enough star power to offset some of the recent cast losses. That feels like a bit of a relief, frankly, after last season’s rather flat ending, which included the awkwardly handled exit of Archie Panjabi. Then again, part of the show’s fun is its habit of capitalizing on its prestige to attract topnotch guest stars, which in the early going also includes Jane Curtin as a judge who can’t quite stop laughing at the notion of an “industrial suction expert” testifying in her court.
Tellingly, the series comes back on a night that features a veritable logjam of cable dramas, including new flights of “The Leftovers” and “Homeland” and “The Strain’s” season finale. While “The Good Wife’s” days of being a rather lonely warrior carrying network TV’s banner in the major awards competition are probably behind it, if this opening salvo is any guide, that doesn’t mean this classy series has lost any of its goodness.